Fashion over function

Acrylic platform shoes.
Image via Wikipedia

This week’s meeting of Cork County Council seems to have been an interesting one, with two female councillors suggesting planners put themselves in women’s shoes when it comes to designing paving. Literally.

While I’m not a stiletto fan myself, there’s no doubt that cobblestones are awkward even in the lowest heel. Narrow heels, of any height, get stuck in the gaps between cobbles, while even flats can fall foul of gappy paving.

Cobblestones present difficulties to large swathes of the population. True, women (and men) choose which shoes they want to wear, and a fashion fad shouldn’t have an impact on the fabric of our infrastructure. But I’ve slipped or twisted an ankle on cobbles more times than I could count, wearing all kinds of shoes, and while I may be more accident-prone than the average person, who’s to say who the average person is? Is it a pensioner with a walking stick, a parent with a buggy, a wheelchair user or a teenager wearing ballet pumps with no grip?

This isn’t an ideological argument. Discussing it with a group of friends yesterday one friend suggested it was women’s own fault for wearing heels that ‘sexualise them’. But it’s really gone past the point of debating whether high heels are a symbol of patriarchy and oppression or women only wear them to look taller. The fact is, women do wear them.And shops will continue to sell them.

It’s about living with the world as it is, making things more convenient for people and, crucially, causing fewer falls, removing reasons to sue local authorities. Cobblestones have become ubiquitous, and while they are nice to look at, they’re not necessary in every street. I don’t know many people who would attempt to walk the beach or a country road in heels, but it’s reasonable to expect that city or town streets have smooth, navigable surfaces. That’s the whole point of paving them in the first place, and paving them with a surface that doesn’t fulfil those criteria means you may as well just leave them in their natural state.

Cllrs Deirdre Forde and Veronica Neville had a point in bringing up the cobble issue. They articulated something that probably has not even struck planners, who are, as they say, mostly men. I’m not sure it’s something that should take up time at a council meeting, but it shouldn’t really need to.

Landscape design is about function as much as appearance, and a streetscape a lot of people can’t stay upright on just doesn’t make sense. Planners are just as guilty as stiletto-wearing masochists on this one; shoes that are impossible to walk in are an individual choice of fashion over function, but streets that are impossible to walk on mean that planners are choosing fashion over function too. The difference is that they’re choosing for all of us, so I’ll be the first one to sign any anti-cobble petition!

(This week’s editorial may have been influenced by a 10 page feature we did on Cork Fashion! Check it out on


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